Israeli co-founder of Machsom Watch, a human rights organization that monitors Israeli checkpoints and their effect on the Palestinians’ daily lives.
Yehudit Keshet was born in Wales to Orthodox Jews who survived the Holocaust. She came to Israel in 1958, returned to the United Kingdom for a time, but settled permanently in Israel in 1974.
After the death of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, she became a political peace activist. In 2001, along with two other Israeli women, Ronnee Jaeger and Adi Kuntsman, founded Machsom Watch (machsom is Hebrew for “checkpoint”), a women’s organization that documents the devastating effects of Israeli checkpoints on Palestinian society.
Checkpoints have become one of the defining features of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. At the end of 2006, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Jerusalem stated that there were more than 520 Israeli “permanent and temporary checkpoints and physical roadblocks disrupting all aspects of Palestinian life” in the West Bank. The checkpoints in many cases keep communities and families divided and have become the site of frequent Israeli abuses toward Palestinians trying to travel within the occupied Palestinian territories.
Machsom Watch, which now has a membership of more than 500 women, has been monitoring human rights violations at checkpoints on the West Bank. Keshet explains the goal of Machsom Watch as “our very presence challenges the security-oriented ideology of the state of Israel. Every single day we see with our own eyes that there is absolutely no connection between checkpoints and security. Checkpoints only provide Valium for the Israeli public, while they mean considerable distress and harassment for the Palestinian population.”
The organization has documented hundreds of cases where, at checkpoints, the Israeli military prevented Palestinians from reaching a nearby hospital. In addition, they’ve noted how the structure of the checkpoints ensures that travelers must endure unwarranted humiliation and delay as they seek to move within the West Bank. Machsom Watch’s work has brought these stories to Israeli and international audiences.
In addition, the presence of these Israeli women and their silent vigil at the many checkpoints on the West Bank and around Jerusalem has modified the behavior of the soldiers on duty. While witnesses watch attentively, soldiers try to avoid media attention for possible human rights abuses.
Yehudit Keshet has recently published a book, Checkpoint Watch: Testimonies from Occupied Palestine (2006), a series of eyewitness reports, with a running commentary from Keshet herself.
Because of its high profile and success, Machsom Watch has recently attracted vehement accusations from Israel’s settler groups. But even their notoriety is a sign that the organization’s truth-telling is succeeding in building a growing awareness of Israel's military occupation.
To learn more about Machsom Watch please see http://www.machsomwatch.org/.